The Real Movement

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Tag: stagflation

Why Thatcher’s neoliberalism was the continuation of Keynesianism

I received this question on my ask.fm page:

“I’ve noticed that you hold a quite controversial position regarding Thatcher, when you say she was right. Do you mean that you endorse her policies? Wouldn’t it be insane for communists endorsing or proposing extreme Thatcherite policies? If not, would you mind explaining it a little better please?”

Not a problem, let me give some context for why in a certain sense, I argue Thatcher was correct about TINA:

In 1980, Margaret Thatcher argued “There is no alternative” to the policies she was pursuing. In the 36 years since she made her TINA speech, those words have been repeated on the Left as a declaration of class war. While the Left has been rightly outraged by her speech, assuming, as it does, that her neoliberal policies were a historical necessity, little or no context for her words have ever been provided by her Left opponents.

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Growth, Stagnation or Collapse: A short comment on Anwar Shaikh’s new book

Here is a quote from Anwar Shaikh in the lecture series based on his new book:

“Capitalism is a growing system. Any analysis of capitalism must build into it from the start that it is growing.”

Shaikh’s statement is really rather incomprehensible given what he says is his starting point for analysis of the capitalist mode of production: the framework provided by classical theorists and Keynes.

How can he claim to base his argument on the classical economists and Keynes when, contrary to both of those schools, he characterizes capitalism as a growing system? In Keynesian theory the system tends toward stagnation; while in classical theory, the mode of production tends toward conditions that must lead to collapse, a falling rate of profit. Read the rest of this entry »

The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy (5)

I have been going through this process in order to clarify for myself the logic of the current discussion of so-called negative interest rates — an oxymoron if ever there was one. This is part five of the series; part one, part two,  part three and part four can be found here. I hope it also will have some use to readers.

Part Five: The dollar and the increasing possibility of 21st Century Currency Warfare

Can monetary policy be rescued from oblivion? Probably not. There are just too many difficulties with the idea of negative interest rates on currency.

As I explained in part four of this series, Haldane proposes that the way around the zero lower bound on monetary policy may be to impose a negative interest rate on the holders of state issued currency. If a way could be found to force the holders of currency to pay interest on the currency in their bank accounts, wallets, pockets — and even in their mattresses — the distinction between credit money and currency could be forcibly imposed on society by the state despite a zero interest rate environment.

Once stripped of its deceptive wrapping as mere monetary policy, what Haldane is proposing is the outright expropriation of your savings account, your checking account and even the currency in your wallet and cookie jar. This goes well beyond monetary policy and begins to encroach on the limits of national economic policy itself. Under the most charitable interpretation, his proposal is well into the sphere of fiscal, even currency, policy despite the attempt to conceal it behind protective coloration as a negative interest rate on currency.

For the moment, however, let’s ignore this potential objection to his proposal. Instead, let’s treat it as a proposal for a measure similar to what FDR did in 1933: pure and simple devaluation of the currency.

What are the difficulties to be considered?

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The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy (4)

I have been going through this process in order to clarify for myself the logic of the current discussion of so-called negative interest rates — an oxymoron if ever there was one. This is part four of the series; part one, part two and part three can be found here. I hope it also will have some use to readers.

Part Four: The desperate search for an exit from failed monetary policy

“I think we got the Recovery Act right. The primary objective of our policy is having more work done, more product produced and more people earning more income. It may be desirable to have a given amount of work shared among more people. But that’s not as desirable as expanding the total amount of work.” Larry Summers, Washington Post, November 8, 2009

“We didn’t think it would take that long.” Ben Bernanke, USA Today, October 5, 2015

The disappointment with the weak impact of counterfeiting the currency was admitted by Bernanke in a recent interview. This was not supposed to happen according to the dominant monetary theory, and Ben Bernanke in particular, where the prices of commodities are a function of the supply of currency in circulation. According to Bernanke’s “quantity theory of money”, the government had this technology, the printing press, which it could use to manage the US national capital. In fact, following the financial crisis, the policy rate went to zero without providing any real stimulus at all.

The chief economist of the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane, gave a speech in September on the problems faced by monetary policy. Although Haldane never mentions Larry Summers, his speech addresses the same concerns Summers raised in his own November 2013 “secular stagnation” speech. The problem is that monetary policy, on which the United States has relied since 1979, has run into a dead end, the zero lower bound. Had Washington not stepped in and provided a multi-year, multi-trillion dollar fiscal stimulus, capitalism likely would have collapsed. No one will admit it, but this is in fact what has happened after the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

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The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy (3)

Part Three: The Zero Lower Bound and the Collapse of Neoliberal Monetary Policy

I have been going through this process in order to clarify for myself the logic of the current discussion of so-called negative interest rates — an oxymoron if ever there was one. This is part three of the series; part one and part two can be found here. I hope it also will have some use to readers.

To recap my argument so far:

Keynes in his 1930 essay, Economic Possibilities for Our Children, diagnosed the cause of the Great Depression as the improvement in the productivity of labor. Although at first admitting this improved productivity must sooner or later require reduction of hours of labor, in his 1933 essay, The Means to Prosperity, he ultimately proposed to fix it by a two-fold strategy: First, the state should maintain abundant credit at very low interest rates to facilitate private investment; second, the state had to lift total spending on commodities through deficit spending.

By the 1970s, however, this strategy — basically a strategy to avoid reducing hours of labor — ran into the twin economic maladies of stagnation and borderline hyperinflation — sometimes called stagflation in the popular press — leading to the political movement to get rid of state management of the economy entirely. In turn, this effort to get rid of state management is more popularly referred to by the name, neoliberalism, on the Left.

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The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy (2)

Part Two: The collapse of the Keynesian policy consensus

As I stated in my previous post, the conflict over control of state economic policy can be traced to the Great Depression. Keynes set the state economic policy framework for this conflict by tracing the cause of the Great Depression to the improvement in labor productivity. According to Keynes in 1930, the depression was caused by capital reducing the need for labor faster than it could find new uses for labor. Of course, capital only has one use for labor: the production of surplus value, production of profit. Keynes was essentially confirming Marx’s prediction that the diminishing need for labor would lead to the collapse of commodity production.

Paul_VolckerAccording to Marx’s labor theory the price of a commodity is only the expression of the “socially necessary labor time” required for production of commodities. This implied that as the labor required for production of commodities fell, so would their prices. When the Great Depression hit, the problem pointed out by Keynes, that the reduction of labor was outrunning the pace at which capital could find new uses for labor, was expressed in deflation, i.e., generally falling prices.

Marx’s argument that the prices of commodities were tied to their labor value carried deadly implications for capitalism. Since prices paid for commodities was the only way the capitalists could recover their investment. Falling prices implies growing pressure on profit. If the capitalists could not sell their commodities at prices to cover their investment plus profit, capitalist production for profit would come to a standstill.

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The hidden conflict within the fascist state for control of economic policy

This article, Devaluations didn’t work, points to what I think is the real reason the Federal Reserve is desperate to raise its policy rate some time this year. It is becoming increasingly obvious monetary policy hasn’t delivered and the bankers are in danger of losing their control of economic policy.

According to the Economist: “Devaluations today haven’t had the positive impacts the end of Gold Standard did in the 1930s”. In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008-2009, bourgeois simpletons are deeply divided over how to replace the extraordinary measures taken to prevent collapse of capitalism with a set of policy tools that can be used to manage the crisis long-term. At the heart of this struggle is the question,

“Why aren’t currency devaluation policies creating inflation?”

To answer this question will require a little bit of economic history.

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Why Marxist can’t explain the collapse of Keynesian economic policies

Part Three

“Instead of understanding so-called ‘labour values’ as ontologically prior to money prices, the position adopted here is that order and regularity in the inter-relations of units of capitalist production is possible only because there is a form of value, namely money, as a precondition for it. Only once this form of commensurating products obtains is there any meaning to the supposition of a law of value rooted in labour time and appearing as price. The money-form structures such determinations as socially necessary labour time, deciding to what degree actual labour times are socially validated, or replaced by socially imputed amounts of labour.” –Chris Arthur, Value and Money

The collapse of Keynesian state management of the economy has never been explained by Marxists. Instead we have witnessed one Marxist scholar after another suggesting a return to Keynesian policies is both possible and necessary. In this part of the series, I will show why Keynesian policies ultimately collapsed. And, moreover, all talk of a return to the so-called Keynesian social state is a fantasy.

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Why Marxists can’t explain how Keynesian policies work

(And they can’t explain why Keynesianism collapsed either)

Part Two

This is part two of the series, “How fiat currency killed Marxism”. Part one is here.

YoungstownPlantAt the high level of abstraction of Capital, money has to be a commodity, because Capital presents a theory of a “pure” capitalist economy, without state intervention. And in the 19th century laissez-faire capitalism (without state intervention) that Marx was analyzing, money was a commodity and money had to be a commodity in its functions of measure of value and store of value. However, in the post-1973 contemporary capitalism, money is no longer a commodity (i.e. is no longer convertible into gold at a fixed exchange rate), and money does not have to be a commodity in Marx’s theory. The state-guaranteed fiat money serves the same purpose as gold under the gold standard – it provides an observable, homogeneous, quantitative, and socially valid expression of abstract labor.  —Fred Moseley, Money has no price

If Keynesian currency devaluation allows the state to maintain production for profit by reducing the real value of wages, why were Keynesian policies abandoned in the late 1970s for neoliberalism? To explain why this happened, requires some discussion of the problem with simple Keynesian “full employment” policies.

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